After being paused for nearly five months because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL will play games that matter when it resumes Saturday.
The new-look season will include 24 teams with 12 playing in each hub city — Toronto (Eastern Conference) or Edmonton (Western Conference). The top four teams from each conference will be playing a round robin-style format to determine seeding, while the remaining eight from each conference will play a best-of-five qualifying series to advance to the first round playoffs, with winners facing one of the round-robin teams. Each team will play an exhibition game this week.
Got all that? Here is a ranking of the 24 teams left in the field.
1. Boston Bruins: The Bruins were one win short of a Stanley Cup last season, were solid this season and feature the NHL’s best line. David Pastrnak looks like he’ll be ready to go after breaking protocol and needing to quarantine.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning will have plenty of motivation after last season’s first-round flame-out. The talent remains there, the pressure is off and they were strong after Christmas.
3. St. Louis Blues: The Blues’ bid for a rare Stanley Cup repeat was aided by the season’s pause because Vladimir Tarasenko had time to get healthy.
4. Vegas Golden Knights: They were rolling and were a leading contender to come out of the West before the season was halted. Can lean on trade deadline pickup Robin Lehner in goal should stalwart Marc-Andre Fleury falter.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: A well-rounded group, the Flyers were seventh in offence despite their leading scorer, Travis Konecny, finishing with 24 goals and 61 points in 66 games. But they have defended well and have a coach, Alain Vigneault, with post-season experience and two trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
6. Colorado Avalanche: The Nathan MacKinnon line is healthy and will be hard to stop. Young defenceman Cale Makar makes the offence more dangerous. Gritty Nazem Kadri will have to avoid the playoff suspensions that led to his trade from Toronto.
7. Washington Capitals: They finished the regular season inconsistently (7-9-3), but this is a playoff-tested, veteran roster that could have benefited greatly from the long rest.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins: The big question surrounds their starting goalie decision: Matt Murray (.899 save percentage) was not good this year but has won a Stanley Cup, and Tristan Jarry (.921 SV%) was much better but has not played in the playoffs.
9. Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn had subpar seasons and coach Jim Montgomery was surprisingly fired. So how did the Stars get a bye? Strong defensive play, a mobile blue line and the goalie tandem of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin.
10. Carolina Hurricanes: The defending Eastern Conference champions will be without key defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce for at least the start of the playoffs.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs: The offence will thrive if there’s run-and-gun hockey. But their defence is second worst among playoff teams, and defence wins championships.
12. Edmonton Oilers: They have the NHL’s top two scorers in Leon Draisaitl — who had 110 points in just 71 games — and Connor McDavid, arguably the best player in the league.
13. Florida Panthers: The Panthers need more from Sergei Bobrovsky than the goalie showed (3.23 goals-against average and .900 save percentage) in the first season of a seven-year, $70 million (U.S.) contract.
14. Calgary Flames: The definition of “middle of the pack,” Calgary was 20th in goals for and 15th in goals against.
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15. Nashville Predators: The John Hynes era has been a mixed bag so far and the offensive output this season has been disappointing relative to the talent on the team. Still, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are patrolling the back end, and that’s a better duo than most teams have on defence.
16. Winnipeg Jets: Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck put forth a Herculean effort this season, posting a .922 save percentage while facing a league-high 1,796 shots. He paced the NHL with six shutouts.
17. Vancouver Canucks: This squad is beginning to emerge from a lengthy rebuild with some fantastic young cornerstone talent in the likes of Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
18. New York Islanders: This Barry Trotz-led group will go as far as their defensive stinginess takes it as it had just one player, Brock Nelson, with more than 20 goals during the regular season
19. New York Rangers: All scenarios seem to be in play for this team — including a deep run or a sweep by the Hurricanes. Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad lead the fifth-best offence, but the defence in front of rookie sensation Igor Shesterkin will be what determines their fate.
20. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets don’t seem to have the scoring (fourth-worst) to make a run, even if they did rank fourth in goals against. They also will be starting a goalie with no playoff experience. But don’t discount what coach John Tortorella can do with a team that is counted out.
21. Arizona Coyotes: The sudden departure of GM John Chayka and pending free agency of former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall looms over a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a traditional 82-game season since 2012.
22. Montreal Canadiens: Montreal will be outmatched against the Penguins, and it will be up to Carey Price to give the Canadiens a chance. He went 1-1-1 against them this year, stopping 91 of 98 shots against.
23. Minnesota Wild: A team in transition following the somewhat unexpected firing of Bruce Boudreau. Dean Evason was just 12 games into his tenure when the season was halted, though he owned an 8-4-0 record.
24. Chicago Blackhawks: They are the worst Western Conference team (72 points) in the playoff field and don’t seem quite ready to do damage, especially facing the Oilers in their home arena.